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Official publications

This page explains what official publications covers, gives an overview of the material the British Library holds for this subject, and advice on how you can find and use it. It also gives details of current activities for developing the collections for this subject.

Official publications are materials issued for public use by federal, national, provincial or municipal governments and intergovernmental organisations. They include Parliamentary papers, debates and proceedings, and publications of government departments, agencies and research institutes on any subject. They consist of policy documents, official statistics, research and practice reports, development plans, regulatory and guidance materials and primary and secondary legislation.

For the UK, please note that the British Library holds published materials only; records created for internal use within government can be found in The National Archives.

Collection overview

The Library's reference collections of UK and foreign government documents and inter-governmental organisations’ publications stretch over 43km of shelving. Most of these are kept off-site and have to be ordered in advance, but UK legislation and Parliamentary materials, including the Official Report (Hansard), Commons and Lords Journals and recent Commons sessional papers are available on the shelves in the Social Sciences Reading Room in London. A significant amount of official material is also held in the Library’s Document Supply Service collections in Yorkshire.

Overall, we have:

  • Comprehensive collections of UK central and devolved government material going back to the Middle Ages
  • selective holdings of local government publications for England and Northern Ireland
  • UK Electoral Registers, complete from 1947, with incomplete holdings back to 1832
  • a strong historic collection of foreign national government publications going back to the late eighteenth century. However, since the early 1990s these have been acquired selectively. The current focus of collecting is on Parliamentary materials, major statistical series (including population censuses), development plans (where appropriate) and legal gazettes
  • comprehensive collections of the publications of a number of intergovernmental organisations, including the European Union, the United Nations, the OECD, the World Health Organisation, Unesco, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the International Labour Organisation, and the European Union
  • a growing collection of full text electronic resources for both national governments and intergovernmental organisations, including United Nations Official Documents System, SourceOECD, World Bank E-Library, US Congressional Serial Set and American State Papers Online, US Congressional Hearings Digital Collection, 1823-1979, US Declassified Documents Reference System, Parliament Rolls of Medieval England, British House of Commons Papers Online from 1801- and British Eighteenth Century Parliamentary Publications.

Finding aids

  • Explore the British Library to find details of books, reports, journal titles, newspapers, maps and many more parts of the Library’s collections. However, tracing official documents is complex, and many are not individually catalogued. Use the guides listed below to help identify official documents in our collections and on the web
  • collections guides and descriptions - overviews of what is held by the British Library and some of our partners, including the London School of Economics Library, the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies Library and Oxford University Libraries: West European National Governments, United Nations, United States, European official gazettes
  • official links databases: links to key official websites for countries and organisations: , Governments Worldwide and more
  • the  based in the Social Sciences Reading Room and launched on 4 July 2007, provides information on European Union law and policy.

Social Sciences Enquiry team

For more help on using the Social Sciences collections, contact the Enquiry team at Social-sciences@bl.uk or telephone +44 (0)20 7412 7894 from 10.00 - 20.00 Mon- Thurs or 10.00 - 17.00 Friday.

Current activities

British Library Content Strategy

We have refined our Content Strategy (i.e what we collect now and in future). Please see the content strategy pages on our website. These pages are organised by subject. Please remember that different aspects of a research theme may be described under more than one subject. A subject will also cover a variety of research themes, so even though your topic may not be specifically listed, it will likely be found under one of our headings.

If you have comments on the Library's content strategy, we would be pleased to hear from you.

In the Content Strategy, you will see descriptions for individual subjects listed in the appendices. Grey Literature and Official Publications are described at page 59. Remember that different aspects of a research theme may be described by more than one subject template. If you have comments on the Library’s content strategy for official publications, please email them to jennie.grimshaw@bl.uk